Authorities said a contracted helicopter carrying guides and guests from a lodge on a heli-skiing trip in Alaska’s backcountry crashed, killing the pilot and four others. According to troopers, the only other person on board was in critical but stable condition at an Anchorage hospital on Sunday.
The victims were identified as 52-year-old Gregory Harms of Colorado, 56-year-old Petr Kellner and 50-year-old Benjamin Larochaix (both from the Czech Republic), 38-year-old Sean McManamy of Girdwood, and 33-year-old pilot Zachary Russell of Anchorage, these were confirmed by Alaska State Troopers.
According to the Reuters news service, Kellner, a billionaire, was the richest man in the Czech Republic.
According to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge spokesperson Mary Ann Pruitt, the five passengers included three guests and two guides. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the victims were tourists or tour guides.
Russel worked as a pilot for Soloy Helicopters, a Wasilla-based company that provides transportation for the lodge, according to Pruitt.
“This news is devastating to our staff, the community in which we operate, and the families of the deceased,” the lodge said in a statement.
At 6:35 p.m., the Eurocopter AS 350 crashed in an unknown location about 50 miles east of Anchorage. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the incident occurred on Saturday. The crash site, according to authorities, was near Knik Glacier.
The lodge is located on Judd Lake, about 60 miles northwest of Anchorage. The company website bills itself as Alaska’s longest-running heli-skiing lodge, promising deep powder and pristine runs on some of the world’s best mountain terrain. According to the website, “An unparalleled alpine adventure is only a helicopter ride away,” The packages begin at $15,000 per person.
According to the lodge’s statement, this is the first time in its 17-year history that “we’ve had to face an event of this measure.” Soloy Helicopters operates a fleet of 19 helicopters that primarily provide charter services in Alaska.
According to its website, it provides assistance to the government and industry, specializing in seismic oil drilling exploration programs. Soloy Helicopters did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment from The Associated Press on Sunday.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Alaska State Troopers said they received a report of an overdue helicopter and the location of possible crash debris on Saturday night.
A rescue team from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center was dispatched to the crash site near Knik Glacier shortly after 10 p.m., according to troopers. When the team arrived, there were five dead occupants and one survivor, who was taken to the hospital.
The bodies were recovered from the crash site by the Alaska Army National Guard and volunteers from the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group on Sunday and turned over to the state medical examiner.
According to troopers, a temporary flight restriction over the glacier has been lifted. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the crash.